“I don’t know how to ‘rate’ how I’m feeling. I don’t even f*@%ing want to be here.”
Seven heads shot up and stared at the redheaded woman in our circle. A few of us giggled nervously.
“You all have these cool projects you’re presenting, and I just don’t know what I’m doing here.”
Alyssa’s eyes watered and inwardly, we all applauded. Finally. An honest answer.
In an uncharacteristically social moment a few months earlier, I had accepted a friend’s invitation to a “Vegan Creatives” 5-day retreat on Cape Cod.
“I want to get a bunch of my vegan artist friends together to talk about our projects and brainstorm,” Shawna, the retreat mastermind, had explained. She and I had met the prior summer at my Masters program residency, where she had graciously overlooked my penchant for public urination.
Much like the cold sweats I experience when interviewing narcissists for school assignments, as the retreat neared, I began to shvitz. What was I thinking? I didn’t know the hostess or anyone going. Sure, I had my thesis project to present, but I was also in the throes of writing said thesis. Could I handle any more stress?
“JUST GO,” I told myself for the 9,000th time. “It’ll be good for you.”
Arrive at guest house. Meet three-legged, one-eyed dog and attractive vegans #1-7. Eat colorful food and receive unicorn name. Grow concerned that I seem to be having…what’s the word…fun. No. That can’t be it.
Convince Alyssa she too is having, well, whatever these feelings are. Begin stroking each other’s hair. Watch Tracy feed pet bee sugar water. Try to take photo without Dakota wearing a bowl. Unsuccessful.
Eat more colorful food, voluntarily touch beach garbage, and reevaluate entire existence. Can I vote using new unicorn name?
Learn that not only do new best friends save animals, sing, write, paint, cook, act, travel, scale mountains, rollerblade with bubbles and have kickass blogs, but the hostess, Allison Argo, has won half a dozen Emmys. Attempt to steal one.
Say goodbye. Ugly cry.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go tuck my Emmy into bed.
Yesterday I had to interview someone for a grad school assignment.
Emphasis on “had” to.
Assignments like this send me, a 36-year-old introvert, into a cold sweat before the semester even begins. Especially when I land an interview with someone who has a very fancy title in a sector with which I am very unfamiliar.
I immediately took to Google. This man and I were from nearby towns and he was, I soon learned, just a few years older. We undoubtedly had acquaintances in common, changing the whole tenor of the interview. I found him on LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube…I suddenly knew way too much about him before even meeting, reminiscent of my prolific dating days.
“Just chill out,” I told myself. “At least it’s not a date!”
Except it totally was. Coffee shop, late afternoon, two people with an agenda…
As soon as my interview subject -let’s call him Ted- arrived, he stuck out his hand and said,
“Hi Jessica, nice to meet you.”
Did he just say Jessica? We’d exchanged at least five emails prior to meeting. Perhaps I should rethink my signature.
He had the Book of Mormon-meets-Quasi-Casual-First-Date look down pat: pressed checkered button-down and perfectly coiffed hair, complemented by fitted slacks with matching belt and shoes.
“You know, I just came from the same coffee shop in [a nearby town],” he said, walking towards the counter. “I was meeting Mr. Mucky Pants from the Board. We had so much to discuss, I didn’t even get to have coffee.”
And thus began a 90-minute, name-drop-laden autobiography in which Ted was the unsung hero.
Beginning in 6th grade.
I managed to ask two of my eight questions.
Midway through, he veered -unprovoked- into his personal life, detailing his recent divorce.
“I’m a really happy guy,” he said repeatedly, with a razor sharp edge to his voice. “I played the role of the guy who tried to fix everything. I have a really long fuse, you know. But get this…”
Ted went on to describe his ex-wife’s grievances, and then how wonderfully everything worked out for him, because:
“I’m a really likable guy. I mean, really. I’m so easy to like.”
“Jury’s still out,” I replied before I could stop myself.
He plowed ahead, telling me about the amazing woman he’d met shortly thereafter, and I wondered how I’d ever get us back on track. He leaned across the table, his hands dangerously close to my Central Perk-sized latte. I angled back in my chair, legs crossed, my pen hovering over a small notepad. My heart rate picked up. The flashbacks came in nauseating waves.
…The guy who showed me YouTube clips where he surgically removed his big toenails…
…The guy who wanted to hook up because he and his wife were “on a break”…
…The guy who told me he only dated “German girls”…
…The guy who said his mother made him “scared of sex”…
“So the next day, Ms. Fancy Drawers called and said she RECOMMENDED me to the Board.”
I snapped back into the moment. Ted was still going.
“This woman has met the president and the pope, you know? Yeah so that was exactly 17 years ago today. That’s right. I was sitting in her office, seeing smoke across the Hudson.”
I nodded and scribbled in my notepad while Ted talked about how hard 9/11 had been for him, personally, on the very day of his esteemed new role.
“Do you have kids?”
Wha…did he just ask ME a question?
“No,” I replied, sitting up straight. “But I do have a d–”
“Well, I have two,” he said. “You need to show kids that THEY’RE IN CONTROL of how they react to everything. You know? Shit happens.”
“Thank you again for your time,” I said when he finally paused to take another sip of his artisan cold brew. I also gave silent thanks to the Merciless Parking Meter Gods who brought this interviewdate torture to a close.
“I just hope I’m always this accessible,” Ted replied.
I hightailed it to my car, and for the next hour, trembled in the corner of my apartment, staring down the Ghost of First Dates Past.
I shuddered as I thought about how Ted embodied every other horrifying first date I’d had over the past few years. The ones where I’d laugh and nod, asking question after question, arriving home exhausted and disappointed, my vocal chords atrophying from lack of use. I’d take off my make-up and high heels, picking peacock feathers off my dress – the same dress I’d second-guessed every day for a week.
I poured myself a pity glass of wine, just like I did back then, and remembered where I was four years ago.
Newly divorced. Like Ted.
Living alone for the first time in my life. Like Ted.
Starting a new job. Like Ted.
Craaap, I thought. Ted is ME. For a split second, it all came rushing back. I had been so scared. Sad. Self-absorbed. God. I wouldn’t pay to go back there.
And the tremors finally subsided.
Maybe I’ll give him a pass this time. What do you think?
Often when time passes, feelings fade, memories go fuzzy, and lessons learned take a backseat to everyday demands. One of the many curious things about undergoing a “past life regression” hypnosis session last month (yup, that’s totally a thing!) was finding that the very opposite occurred. The thoughts, smells, sights and sounds that I experienced during hypnosis have become hyperreal, and I’ve spent many long walks trying to squeeze every ounce of insight that I can from them.
Wanna hear what I’ve got so far? Oh good. I knew I had a blog for a reason.
LESSON 1 (of 3): It’s Okay to Want Less
In many ways, the two past lives I witnessed couldn’t have been more different. In one life, I was a woman, the other, a man. In one I was wealthy, the other poor. I hated my job one time, enjoyed it the next.
None of this mattered.
As both a wealthy Victorian woman visiting her grandmother in the English countryside and a poor-as-dirt laborer in rural Maine in the mid-20th century, the only thing that mattered to me was this: Being with my family, surrounded by nature. I longed for nothing more than the sight of those rolling hills and the water – except maybe a cup of tea and some James Joyce! No part of me was vying for a 4.0 GPA or learning yoga or reading self-help books. And I felt zero guilt about it. The pursuit of peace and pleasure was enough.
This was a powerful lesson. All I truly desire today is exactly the same – except now it feels devilishly indulgent. A simple life with fewer responsibilities? How dare I! This experience was a much-needed reminder to take a breath and remember that all of the accomplishments in the world are meaningless if I can’t enjoy what matters most. I don’t need to adorn this life with the trappings of success to have a successful life.
LESSON 2 (of 3): Why I REALLY Struggle with My Weight
I thought, between decades of dieting and multiple therapists, that I’d covered every possible reason I struggled with weight.
It wasn’t until I heard my “Higher Self” speak during hypnosis that a new idea took form: My weight was the physical manifestation of carrying others’ burdens. I had never allowed this theory to surface because I thought it made me sound like a self-righteous martyr.
“She tries to be like a mussel. Clean the water. It doesn’t work,” my higher self had said, speaking in third person. “She just wants everyone to be happy. She doesn’t have to be responsible for anyone [else’s happiness].”
How might I approach my relationship with food if I looked at it through this new lens? Would I speak up, set boundaries, and share more of my authenticself? The short answer? YES. It’s already happening! But I’ll confess: I haven’t changed overnight. The road ahead still looks pretty curvy (pun soooo intended). Nevertheless, I’m more optimistic than ever before that I’m dissolving a toxic pattern.
LESSON 3 (of 3): “If You’re Happy, You Will Save the World”
This is something else my higher self relayed midway through the session, and it strikes me as almost heartbreaking in its innocence. Wasn’t there some wise old (wo)man somewhere who said we can recognize the truth by its simplicity?
I’ve often heard people say that we’re on this earth to experience joy, and despite how things may appear on this blog, I often do a sh*tty job of it. Which links back perfectly to #1 on this list: It doesn’t take much to be happy (and THAT’S OKAY)!
Perhaps instead of living life like one giant checklist, I’d make a bigger, brighter impact on the planet I love so much by doing things daily that delight me (like using alliteration…check!).
Do these lessons resonate with you? Do you struggle with them like I do?